Wednesday September 5, 2012

LENOX -- Tanglewood's big 75th anniversary season concluded Sundaywith a concert of thoughtfully-produced music clearly agreeable to the throng that turned out on a balmy early September afternoon.

"Michael Feinstein"s American Songbook" provided the framework, and Feinstein proved a suavely genial guide through its selected treasures, with Thomas Wilkins leading the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra through often stylish arrangements of the familiar scores.

The brisk, two-hour session was filled with talent, as Feinstein welcomed his two scheduled guests, both Tony-Award winners, Betty Buckley and Christine Ebersole, and a surprise caller, Liza Minnelli, whom he introduced, to the crowd's delight, later in the proceedings.

Feinstein is enjoying a remarkable career, initially as an archivist for the Gershwin oeuvre at the family's request, then as a cabaret pianist and singer who has displayed increasing confidence in performance since his debut in the 1980s. His vocal instrument has gathered considerably more support and resonance that allow him to spin a legato line with ease and a secure top register that makes him one of our most persuasive balladeers.

Feinstein began his turn Sunday at the piano, with a raucous, off-the-wall treatment of Irving Berlin's "I Love a Piano," then followed it up with a torchy rendition of Johnny Mercer's vengeful "I Wanna Be Around (To Pick Up the Pieces).


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When Feinstein offers "When I Fall in Love," one cannot forget Nat Cole's seminal version of Victor Young and Edward Heyman's great romantic air, yet still finds admiration for what Feinstein can add to the legend.

Buckley demonstrated her ever-plangent Broadway voice in a mini-medley from "My Fair Lady," and in a duet -- "You Made Me Love You" -- introduced by Feinstein as a fan letter he said he had directed to her in years past; the two produced some engaging simple harmony, he, a third down from her melody.

Ebersole's versatile voice delivered some urgent train sounds along with a few new lyrics to Harry Warren and Mercer's vintage lyrical film adventure, "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," and reveled in a creative medley with Feinstein that deftly wove the Gershwins' "Embraceable You" with "Someone to Watch Over Me" and just a touch of "I Loves You, Porgy."

At one point Feinstein mentioned that someone -- another old friend -- had come up to Tanglewood from the city, and out bounded Minnelli. Feinstein guided his exuberant pal through a lively duet of "New York, New York" that elicited cheers from the crowd filling much of the Shed and quite a bit of the lawn outside.

It was a hard act to follow, but the scheduled encore proceeded nonetheless -- a trio of Feinstein, Buckley and Ebersole intoning Harold Arlen and Mercer's melodic sermon, "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive."

Wilkins, music director of the Omaha Symphony and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's youth and family concerts conductor, presided over the afternoon's activities, investing the music with a clear beat, and the introductory sequences with a sunny personality.